One day when I was outside the US looking in....
The day was gorgeous, a beautiful September day. The sky was a gorgeous blue, the rain had cleared away. The bustle of the "Centre Ville", Strasbourg, France was energetic. I loved my new city I had just moved to. Just days before I had left my home of Tempe, Arizona, USA, and found myself embarking on a journey to study in France for a year. A year away from home! Was I crazy? "Pas du tout" as the French would say, for "not at all". I was in my element, my zone.
Discovering my new city became tiresome, after going in and out of cute French clothing stores, entering the Cathédral de Strasbourg, walking around Place Kléber. Me and my new friends, my American/Canadian roomie, Jenny, an American from my university, Sharon, two lovely girls from Birmingham (pronounced Birmingum), UK, Lisa and Leonie, and an Irish lad, Patrick, with an English cockney accent, all decided to sit down at a lovely little café in the shadows of the cathedral. Such a glorious piece of architecture. Its spire is one of the highest in France, and can be seen from all corners of Strasbourg.
We sat on the terrace, to continue enjoying this magnificent day, and to better get acquainted with one another. We ordered various café fare, all with our quiet French, as we weren't yet comfortable with the flow. When the waiter lastly turned to me, I softly ordered my café crème, and a slice of quiche Lorraine. "Oui, oui", he confirmed, "Tout de suite", and he dashed into the café to round up our orders.
I remember sitting back into my chair, letting the sun hit my face, and saying with a silly French accent, "Ah, we are in France". The conversations were simple, the three of us North Americans listening with earnest to our new friends, loving the way they spoke, watching their mouths as they said things differently than us. It was just a great scene, never to be forgotten, for who knew that in a few short minutes, the brightness of this day was going to drastically change.
The waiter brought out our various requests, in a timely matter. I sipped my cafe crème, so luscious and divine, nothing like it in the US, as far as I've found, and my warm, spongy quiche, with the most perfect crust, that I'm still trying to replicate. All was well, all was, interrupted..."Oh my God", explained Leonie, who was staring at her cell phone. She had been texting, which was unheard of really in the USA, as far as I knew. "What", we all asked, expecting a sorta British drama story to come next. Not so much. "I just received a text from my bloke", she said and looked at me with fear in her eyes, "he's said the World Trade Towers have crumbled to bits, and the Pentagon has been destroyed"!
I remember sitting there, my cup just in front of my lips, I could feel the warmth emanating off the cup, could anticipate that almost thrilling burn that comes when sipping a hot beverage. But, the cup never again met my lips. I sat there and looked at her, "What", I asked, "Is this a joke", my words trembling, barely audible. "Of course not, I'll find out more", she said, swiftly texting back, "He doesn't joke, not about stuff like this", she said sharply. I slouched back into my seat, "Sorry", I had said, my voice small. We all sat there, watching Leonie's phone, waiting for the text to come back, and when the ding went off, we all sat forward in our seats, not breathing, anticipating what was to come next. "It appears that airplanes, jets, have flown into the towers and the Pentagon."
Suddenly it felt as if the sunshine had gone, and we were now cast in the shadows of the Cathédral. A chill ran through my veins, so cold and icey, creating a shiver up my spine. The gargoyles carved on the walls of the cathedral seemed to peer down at us, mocking our horrified shock. I almost thought I could hear their whispered, hissed laughs, enjoying our darkness.
"How can that be possible", I muttered to myself, "How can the towers have fallen, and the Pentagon be destroyed?" I couldn't breathe. I couldn't imagine what I was hearing. I frantically looked around to find our waiter. When I found him, I asked him if he had a radio or TV in his café to listen to the news, and he looked at me like I was crazy, shook his head and said "Non, mademoiselle, désolé".
"We need to get back to the apartment", I said, trembling, laying down my portion of the bill, gathering my items, leaving my quiche half eaten and my café crème which I had only sipped once. Everyone agreed we needed to get to our apartment, to get to the tip top floor to where the only TV in the whole building was. Along the way I attempted phoning home, but lines were so tied up, I couldn't get through, which scared me more. Anxiety was hitting me so hard, I thought I was going to pass out.
As soon as we approached our street, I rushed to the doorway to the building, and barreled up the stairs. Our crazy landlady yelled at me from her room, telling me to be quiet. I ignored her, continuing up the 6 floors, till I reached the top door, and I barged into the TV room, startling whomever was up there. "The TV", I said, my words disconnected, "The TV." "You alright love", said Allison, whom was adjacent to the TV room, peering from her half craked open door. "What's happened?" I lunged towards the TV, and turned on the first news channel I could find, no longer able to speak, fear was overtaking me, as I was deathly afraid of what I was about to see.
Then the images unfolded, in front of my eyes, and I fell back in disbelief. Everyone had made it into the room by now, and were seeing what I had turned on. "Jesus", said Patrick. Everyone's hands were covering their mouths, tears forming in the eyes.
"How can this be," I cried out, "I can't...this isn't...why?" I felt suddenly alone, saddened, afraid. All I could think of is that I had just left my family at home, a week before, feeling they were safe, and I was the one at risk. Now I had felt completely opposite. I felt my friends and family were in danger. I didn't quite yet know what/who had caused the devastation, but in the hours to come, the news had spread of the motives behind such an assault, which had caught the world off guard.
I couldn't sleep that night, nor eat. I just starred at the TV, watching every detail, waiting to see if more would happen, the images being played over and over again, like a scratchy record, stuck on a phrase, repeating incesently, I couldn't look away. I struggled with the French news station TF1, as my French wasn't solid enough, and after many tries I finally came upon CNBC News, at last English, I could understand, and no longer struggled with interpreting.
I actually smoked an entire pack of Luck Strike Lights, by myself, which was unheard of for me. The three of us American girls managed to get through more than a few bottles of wine, which made our sorrows deeper and stranger. The Brits felt angst for us, but turned in early, they didn't know how to help us, we didn't know how to help us. The three of us girls just held each other, we prayed for our friends and family, and consoled each other, even though we didn't know what we were supposed to do.
When morning came, I had slept maybe 1 hour all together. I scrambled to put on clothes, shake off my wine and cigarette hangover, brushed my teeth and ran to the nearest phone cabin 2 blocks away. I was finally able to reach my parents. Words of love was shared immensely, words of worry and pain laced my dad's voice, teary words from my mom made my heart ache and I longed to be with her, to comfort her, but I was half a world away, on foreign land, I didn't know how to console my mom. I felt small, and insignificant. How was I to get through this. Was I to turn back and head home, or stick out my year abroad. I told my parents and brother I loved them, and that I'd be in touch soon to make sure everyone was safe. I didn't want to hang up the phone, but I was glad I finally got through to them, to hear them safe and sound, and not in danger.
I walked around for a bit, deep in thought, with so many questions running through my head. The days that followed, the world bonded in mourning. Countries provided moments of silence on the mass transit systems, pausing normal operation to observe lives lost. Flowers were laid against the gates to American Embassies world wide. Those not American reached out to us that were, and offered their condolences. Those of us that were American created strong bonds, because we now felt like targets, and needed to protect each other. The world bonded together to pick up the pieces, and to press forward, showing we will not fight silently. Through every dark cloud, and looming shadow, there really does exist a silver lining of hope, and it is brighter than the brightest star.